With a weapon in each hand, I surveyed the desolate, dusty landscape. Up ahead in the distance, I saw that my friend’s gun fire had attracted a swarm of zombies and they were heading straight for me. Panic set in as a warm breeze blew at my hair.
Behind me, Robson was trying to shoot a radio, leaving me to deal with the bad guys. Some way to drop me in it, I thought, as I saw the ravenous undead making for me.
Only minutes before, we had been mice, working in tandem to prepare fast food for customers. I’d been chopping bread and, when he wasn’t squirting me with ketchup, Robson had been slicing him. No, this was not a fever dream – we were in the Otherworld.
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Birmingham’s new virtual reality bar, Otherworld, has taken the space on Bennett’s Hill where Nocturnal Animals once stood. I always thought that place was amazing, with its Insta-worthy illuminated underground tunnel. But as light shows go, Otherworld blew my mind, just like I’d blown that zombie’s brain, with my Glock.
We’d arrived at 6pm on a Thursday. The place was accepting some bookings but it was a bit of a soft launch while they ironed out some creases. We arrived and noticed our names already on a departures board, like the airport.
Only this was not like any other place I’d ever been. Everything was crisp and white, with a self-serve bar in the center which gave me the feeling that perhaps I’d died and gone to heaven.
You can book to go in just for drinks, but we wanted more. Each table is illuminated by a really extraordinary little LED light, somewhere between a candle and a futuristic control on an intergalactic spaceship, and swirling projections on the walls react to people pulling their own pints. We soaked it in when we downloaded the Otherworld app, ready to start our session.
We were led down to our Immersion Pods and I went into one, while Robson was led to another. “Do not worry,” I was told, “You’ll be able to play together when you get to the Otherworld.” So I put on my goggles, my headset with microphone and I picked up my controllers.
The next time I held out my hands, they were computer generated. I’d never played a VR game before, so it was wild to me – it was significantly more impressive, graphically, than I had envisaged. I turned around and saw another avatar standing there, waving.
“Robson … is that you ?!” I inquired, and a hand gesticulation and reassuring word in my ear, as well as his name badge, told me that it was. Woah.
We were both guided by a really helpful and patient person on our headsets to take a walk through ‘The Island’, where we’d be able to start our first game. The landscape and scenery was so beautiful, I could not stop shouting. Wow. Oh wow. WOW.
Together, we slid down a massive glacier and wandered through the island, rabbits hopping at our feet and other players walking around too. I picked up a bunny and threw him, my grip on the easy to understand controllers reflected in the game. My cruelty earned me points that I could then redeem against booze upstairs. Score!
Robson was kinder to his bunny holding it up and tickling his tummy. Once we’d gotten used to the controllers, we decided to head into our first game.
There were four zones to choose from, each named after a season. Spring was a good place to start, we were told, as it’s a little easier. Once you get up to autumn and winter, the games are harder, with options like Half-Life: Alyx and Windlands 2 probably better suited to more experienced gamers.
I chose Synth Riders and it was an excellent decision. It gave me such good vibes! It was a dancing game, where you hit orbs that fly towards you, rhythmically. It reminded me of the joy I felt when I got a dance mat for my PS1, or that thrill we got when Guitar Hero came out. I could hear Robson laughing in his pod as we competed for points. I won both rounds and tried to be gracious in victory. That turned out to be the only difficult thing about this super simple to navigate and user-friendly experience.
Next, we went to play Cook-Out, where you turn into mice and have to prepare fast food under pressure from rude customers. We began diligently chopping onions, cutting bread and working together to construct sandwiches. But then we got fed up with the demand, began squirting each other with the condiments and flung cleavers at the customers. Sod ’em.
We’d gone for a 50 minute session and, seeing we only had around 15 more minutes to play, we went for the zombies. Both of us were apprehensive.
As well as being able to see things, you could also feel them. As we landed in the arid landscape occupied by the undead, I felt the temperature rise and a warm breeze moved my hair. The floor moves too, so you feel rumbles – brilliant if you pick up a grenade, pull the pin and throw it. Kaboom!
I shouted a lot in this game. As baddies pursued me I shot madly, blam blam blam, trying to keep us safe. My heart was racing – it was a scream. Quite literally, I learn, as staff said they’d heard my hollering from outside the pod.
When our time was up, I took off my head gear and readjusted to real life and jumped when a staff member came in to help me, just in case he was trying to eat me.
Back upstairs we cashed in the points we’d earned in the games, redeeming them against the price of a rum punch and a margarita. There are craft beers on tap too, as well as plenty of non-alcoholic cocktails.
Even the toilets in Otherworld are amazing. The room was lit up neon green, my cubicle, bright fuchsia. As I wandered in, the toilet seat opened by itself. There was even a remote on the wall so you could get it to wash your bum with jets of water at different angles. I regret not giving it a go. It will BLOWDRY YOUR BOTTOM as well. Caps for emphasis.
Prices at Otherworld start at £ 13, which felt so reasonable given you’re practically going on holiday for 50 minutes. Longer sessions will be available too. I’d argue it’s worth the entry price just to get your undercarriage aired by a high tech toilet, but what do I know.
Bookings are open now for groups of up to 30 people. You can check it out here.
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